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For Peace Mother, life as normal ended with soldier son's death


San Luis Obispo Tribune
by MARTHA MENDOZA, Associated Press

VACAVILLE, Calif. - Before her son was killed in Iraq, before she began a peace vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch, before she became an icon of the anti-war movement and the face of grieving mothers, there was a time when Cindy Sheehan's life was, by all appearances, incredibly normal.

She grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, the daughter of a housewife and an electrician. She married her high school sweetheart, Patrick Sheehan. They had four babies, one almost every other year. They drove their growing clan in a huge, yellow station wagon with a goofy nickname: "The BananaMobile." She volunteered at church, and later, as the children grew, she worked there.

Normal life ended for Cindy Sheehan in April 2004, when her oldest son Casey, 24, was killed in Iraq.

First, she says, "I was a Mom in deep shock and deep grief."

Then came what she considered to be a disturbingly placid meeting with President Bush two months after Casey's death. While she found him to be a "man of faith," she also said later that he seemed "totally disconnected from humanity and reality." And when she later heard him speak of soldiers' deaths as "noble," Sheehan felt she had to do something.

"The shock has worn off and deep anger has set in," she said.

Sheehan co-founded an anti-war organization and began talking, protesting, even speaking at a Congressional hearing. She got a Web site, a public relations assistant (paid for by an anti-war group), an entourage of peace activists and a speaking tour.

While her message was strong - and widely disseminated - she didn't become world famous until last week, when, after speaking at the annual Veterans' For Peace national conference in Dallas, she decided to take a bus to Crawford and have a word with her president.

For the record, here's what she said she wants to tell him: "I would say, 'What is the noble cause my son died for?' And I would say if the cause is so noble has he encouraged his daughters to enlist? And I would be asking him to quit using Casey's sacrifice to justify continued killing, and to use Casey's sacrifice to promote peace."

There's something about Sheehan's peaceful vigil, her unstoppable anguish, her soft blue eyes and gentle way of speaking, that has captured attention for an anti-war movement that until now hasn't had much of a leader.

In the past week she has appeared on every major television and radio network and newspapers around the world.

But her advocacy is now at a pivotal point, as her raw grief and plainspoken protest is broadcast live, her sincerity and genuineness is being questioned.

As she wept and prayed this week at a cross bearing her son's name in a symbolic cemetery for soldiers along the road to Bush's ranch, photographers clustered nearby, elbowing each other for the best shot.

Critics have started calling her a pawn of the left-wing. Some conservative organizations, talk show hosts and even some of her own extended family accuse her of shifting her position and say she is lowering troop morale.

"To be perfectly honest, I think it is disgraceful," said bookkeeper Diana Kraft of Vacaville, whose son is in the Navy. "I don't know the loss she's feeling to lose a son because, thank goodness, I haven't had that, but we're in this war and we have to support the troops."

Other friends, neighbors and churchmembers argue that she is a hero, and say they're proud of what she's doing.

Meanwhile, dozens of people have joined her and others have sent flowers and food. One activist called her "the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement." Other "Camp Casey" protests and vigils are springing up around the country, with handmade signs calling on Bush to "Talk To Cindy." Activists in San Francisco were rallying Friday on her behalf; others planned to gather Monday in New York's Union Square.

Sheehan knows she's being heard.

Bush himself acknowledged her on Thursday, telling White House reporters at his ranch that "she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position."

But Bush said Sheehan is wrong on Iraq: "I thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is: Get out of Iraq now. And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so."

Sheehan, a lifelong Democrat, said that until her son died, she'd never spoken out about her views.

She said she was "too young" during the Vietnam War - "I only saw it on the news and I thought it was horrible," she said. She said she didn't agree with the first Gulf War, but only talked about it with friends and classmates.

As a child, Sheehan was opinionated, but not outspoken, says her sister Dede Miller. Together they and their brother Scott enjoyed "a very simple, very normal" life in the then-quiet community of Bellflower, Calif., about 20 miles south of Los Angeles. Sheehan was a sharp student, enrolled in programs for gifted students. She married her first serious boyfriend, Patrick, whom she met when she was 17.

They soon began having children, first Casey and then Carly, Andy and Jane. Sheehan devoted herself to raising them.

"She was an earth mother, a very devoted Mom," said Miller. "She did all of the studying, she read all the books about raising kids, she breast-fed, the whole nine yards."

After Jane, her youngest, started school, Sheehan began taking classes at UC Los Angeles, studying math and history. She never graduated, and in 1993, the family moved to Vacaville, a family-friendly town midway between San Francisco and Sacramento, where Patrick worked as a sales representative.

After Casey died, the Sheehans bought a house on a tree-lined street less than a block from St. Mary's Church, where Sheehan worked for eight years, first as a volunteer and later as a popular youth minister for the diocese. But the stress of his death and their grief prompted she and her husband to separate, she said.

She also gave up her new job - she had been training as a case manager with Napa County's Health and Human Services department - and said she has been living off of her son's "blood money," funds provided by the military after his death. She is also supported by donations from supporters.

In Vacaville this week, her friend Stefanie Fereday-Mannel said Sheehan still has many supporters in their community: "She has a heart and it's been totally ripped and I feel she has a say," she said.

"She opened her home to tons of kids," she added. "It was like, when they said, 'We are going over to Cindy's for pizza tonight,' you knew that was OK to do."

Dede Miller planned to join her younger sister this weekend in Texas, where Sheehan has vowed to remain on the hot, dusty shoulder of Prairie Chapel Road through Bush's August vacation, unless he decides to meet with her personally.

"My whole family would rather I was home more than gone," she said. "Some people have tried to discourage me from doing what I'm doing but I can't be discouraged, I can't be stopped because I know what I'm doing is so important. It's a matter of life or death."

---

Associated Press Writers Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Angela K. Brown in Crawford, Texas contributed to this story.

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Stop Crying
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 2005-08-13 15:19.
You guys make me sick. I am a war vetran myself and have lost loved ones in war. What makes me so mad about you guys is that the people who you lost CHOSE to be in the armed services. The oath they take states that they agree to give their life if needed. I am so tired of people crying about how its so unfair. Is if fair that people sign up to get a free ride in the military to get school money or free housing and then when fighting is required they cry foul? They signed up for it there is NO DRAFT. People who sign up for the military thinking that they will never be put in harms way need to get a clue. It is sad to loose loved ones I know. BUT if they volunteer then they know that death is a chance and should not join if that is an issue. Stop getting a free ride of our goverment and dont join!!!!!

Your stupidity is exceded only by your ignorance!

We attacked a country that was not a threat to the security of our family or our communities...therefore their sacrifice is not noble. Noble is for the protection of our country. We attacked a country for regime change...bin Laden wanted Saddam gone. Israel wanted Saddam gone. But Saddam did not threaten the US ever. Cindy lost her child for someone else not her country. This war cannot be made noble...that is why Bush will not answer the question.

Anon when are you going?
BTW your lovely President claimed there were WMDS there weren't any. Now he tries to say its about liberty and freedom.

Everyone thought there were WMD and in fact Chemicals and such have been found. To say only Bush thought that makes you an idiot. (just like the Anti_mother Cindy)

Jerks like you didn't say anything when Bubba bombed Kosovo & Bosnia. You don't hate war. You hate Bush. You HATE yourself.

Die already

WE hate being lied to in order to manipulate us into a war of aggression. The chemicals we found were analyzed and it was concluded that they were so chemically degraded by sitting for over a decade that they were useless as a weapon. There wer no stockpiles of anthrax, there were no labratories. And the reports that claim he was trying to get Uranium Oxide from Niger were exposed by the fact that Iraq is one of the countries most rich in Uranium. During the "peacekeeping" missions from Clinton, there defiantely were people protesting them. No on here says that Bush thought there were "WMDs" in Iraq, in fact, thats what this site is all about, him lying to us about them in order to go to war.

No one in our military volunteered to be sent to die in an illegal war based on lies. Not only were there no WMDs nor any link to Al Qaeda, but these facts were known prior to the war. Our "leaders" used scare tactics after 9/11 to justify a war based on falsified dangers. Read all of the Downing Street Memos and the information coming out about why Ambassador Wilson's CIA wife was outed. The evidence is clear. Of course people who join the military know they may die in the line of duty, but they trust that the Commander in Chief will put their lives on the line only as a last resort to defend their country in a legal and moral cause. This trust was violated. It is not a free ride to get paid for one's services whether in money or benefits.

Your proof that people, vets or active duty, can be total idiots about reality. Listen up, death in the military is NOT the issue here! A military death in an illegal war IS the issue!!! IF Iraq was a threat, we would not be having this buLLshIT conversation! IF Hussein was involved in 9/11, IF he was pointing nukes at us, IF he was going to deliver WMD at us, IF he was buddies with Osama Bin Laden, Casey's death, while still tragic, would have made sense. As it is, Bush knew NONE of the above was true: Iraq was NO threat; Hussein had NO WMD; Osama hated Hussein with NO Al-Quaida connections in Iraq; Iraq had NO connection whatsoever with 9/11....period! That, asshole, is why Casey's death is not just another unfortunate military death in the line of duty. It is, rather, A MURDER through and by the deceptions and lies of President Bush and many around him. Now shut up and get informed before opening your mouth again soldier. Otherwise, if you want to keep dumb, call up Rush or Bill...

As a veteran, I'm sure you served your country with honor, but I need to point out a few things about what it's like to join the military. I hope you were able to take advantage of the GI bill because according to government numbers, less than 30% of all military ever take advantage of this money, but everyone (including you) paid into the GI bill.

Do you know what Army and Marine recruiters tell potential recruits? They sell them on education, travel, and serving their country. Do you think they tell them that they will definitely be in Iraq or Afghanistan? No. Do you think they're told that they are signing up for 8 years no matter what their contract might say due to the stop-gap loss? No. Do you think they tell them that no matter what is written in their contract the US government can change those orders and put them on the front lines in Iraq if that's where they're needed? No. They deliberately withhold the truth from potential recruits because they know if it was told, they would have far fewer recruits then they do now.

So when you accuse soldiers and marines of going into the military to get a free ride in education, you need to put the blame on the recruiters because that's how the military sells itself.

Most people who joined the military did so in a time of peace. Yes, they agreed to give their life if called to, and I agree with you when you say they signed that paper and made that commitment, although I believe there's a lot of things new recruits aren't told when they sign that paper.

However, with all of the government documents that prove the reasons for going to war in Iraq (WMDs & the Osama bin Laden connection) were found to be wrong, and the fact that the intelligence that said they were wrong was ignored by Bush and his administration, changes the nature of this particular war.

It's one thing to sign up to fight a just war, which I think is what many people felt they were doing after 9/11. But it's another thing to sign up and be forced to fight a war built on lies. There's so much evidence (and it's all at this website in the column on the left) that we can no longer sit by idly and say we have to stick it out.

As Terry Rodgers, a wounded Iraq war vet, told the New York Times, "There's always gonna be insurgents trying to blow us up. There's just too many of 'em that are willing to do it. You're never gonna catch all of 'em. And it seems like they have unlimited amounts of ammunition. So I don't think it's ever gonna end."

I have talked to enough war veterans to know that not everyone sees this war the same way you do. Not everyone, including those who have served honorably and believe the military is important, views this war as something we should be doing. Just so you have both sides, please read the documents listed on this website. Once armed with all the evidence, you can decide what you think is the best answer for this problem.

But throwing accusations at people without having all the evidence seems really out of character for a veteran. I'm sure you're more intelligent than that.

The oath they take states that they agree to give their life if needed.

How is it needed right now? Mr. Bush first spoke of WMD's. There were'nt any. Now he is talking about freedom and liberty...
By the way Anon are you signed up and ready to go?????//

Your proof that people, vets or active duty, can be total idiots about reality. Listen up, death in the military is NOT the issue here! A military death in an illegal war IS the issue!!! IF Iraq was a threat, we would not be having this buLLshIT conversation! IF Hussein was involved in 9/11, IF he was pointing nukes at us, IF he was going to deliver WMD at us, IF he was buddies with Osama Bin Laden, Casey's death, while still tragic, would have made sense. As it is, Bush knew NONE of the above was true: Iraq was NO threat; Hussein had NO WMD; Osama hated Hussein with NO Al-Quaida connections in Iraq; Iraq had NO connection whatsoever with 9/11....period! That, asshole, is why Casey's death is not just another unfortunate military death in the line of duty. It is, rather, A MURDER through and by the deceptions and lies of President Bush and many around him. Now shut up and get informed before opening your mouth again soldier. Otherwise, if you want to keep dumb, call up Rush or Bill...

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